If you like movies with secret masters, ancient villains, fearsome fu-skills, and buckets of butt-kicking action, then look no further: Arahan is here.
The film opens with five of the Seven Masters, bemoaning the fact that they’ve got no new disciples to learn the hidden arts. You can tell the tone of the movie immediately: several of the Masters are wearing daggy tracky dacks, and one smokes continuously. This movie does not take itself too seriously.
When we meet the two leads, they too confound our expectations of how these things should work. Eui Jin (Yoon So-yi) is a convenience store assistant and freelance thief-taker whose pretty face often wears an expression of withering contempt. Sang Hwan (Ryoo Seung Bum) is a hapless police officer in frantic pursuit of the same thief, and seems to have “Doofus” tattooed all over him.
As a cultural aside, you may need to know something about how the Korean Police works. All young men have to do national service, and some serve that time in the police force. This means that the attitude of many Koreans towards these young policemen is totally contemptuous. The uniform they’re forced to wear only makes a bad situation worse.
So, we have our courageous but ineffective cop in panting pursuit of a thief, and rounding the corner just as Eui Jin launches her Power Blast. Probably (TM). Impressive, except that Eui Jin has never been good at aiming, and the blast bypasses the thief and knocks out Sang Hwan. This indignity is only compounded when he wakes to find himself stripped to his undies and a-bristle with acupuncture needles. Inevitably, after the initial shock (and much dancing around in panic with the needles waving like a field of grain), Sang Hwan decides to learn the arts and A Hero Is Born.
Of course every Hero needs a Villain, and this one is plenty villainous: shaggy hair, a big sword, and a tendency to suck the life out of pawn shop owners. His determined and ruthless evil (or perhaps I should say “eeeevuuullllll”) is set against the desperate goodness of Mu Un (Ahn Sung Ki). Ahn seems to enjoy something a little more light-hearted than his usual roles, and presents his character with a deftness of touch that stops the film descending into farce.
It’s not a perfect film, but it has a lot to recommend it: a fine cast, plenty of fights and a splash of humour, interlaced with some subtly conveyed moral points. Now if only Eui Jin could get her aim right…